As doctors and survivors of the Orlando nightclub massacre shared their harrowing stories with the media on Tuesday, a stern President Barack Obama insisted the government was aggressively combating terrorism.
The president spoke Tuesday in response to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s repeated rhetoric targeting Democrats as weak for failing to clamp down on ‘radical Islam.’”
“There is no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam,’” Obama said in televised remarks. “It’s a political talking point. It’s not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism.”
Obama, in his most forceful words yet following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history that claimed the lives of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, said Republican fear mongering will only embolden support for terror groups such as the Islamic State. Trump has made temporarily banning Muslim immigrants a signature part of his campaign.
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“It doesn’t reflect our Democratic ideals,” Obama said. “It will make less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that America hates Muslims.”
He called for curbing the ability to buy heavy weaponry, such as the assault rifle mass killer Omar Mateen bought days before the Orlando slaughter.
“Enough talking about being tough on terrorism,” he said. “Actually, be tough on terrorism and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.”
It’s been two days since Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard from Fort Pierce, entered the Pulse nightclub, killing 49 people, wounding 53 and engaging in a three-hour standoff before he was felled by police bullets.
Sunday’s horrific attack, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, has sparked worldwide grief and sparked heated political rhetoric over terrorism and gun control. The FBI said Monday that Mateen may have been inspired by online Islamic radicalism, although there is no evidence that he plotted with anyone abroad.
Investigators are also now weighing whether to charge Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, for failing to report the plans.
A law-enforcement source told the Miami Herald that Salman told agents that he had discussed with her the Pulse nightclub as a possible target — as well as Walt Disney World. She told the FBI soon after the shooting that the couple had discussed the plot during a recent trip to the theme park, and she claimed she tried to talk him out of it.
In Orlando, authorities are also now investigating witness reports that Mateen may have been a regular at Pulse, raising the possibility that Mateen himself might have been gay. Several club patrons told the Orlando Sentinel that Mateen, a married father, was a regular at Pulse was prone to outbursts while drinking there.
“It was definitely him,” patron Cord Cedeno told the newspaper. “He'd come in for years, and people knew him.”
Another man told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen, for about a year, had messaged him off and on on a gay chat app called Jack’d.
Meanwhile in Orlando, surgeons and survivors gathered for a press conference Tuesday at the hospital just blocks from the nightclub. They recalled the “war scene” of scores of patients being brought in with gunshot wounds in the middle of the night.
In all, nine of 44 people died at the hospital, while 27 remain hospitalized at the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
The emotional punch Tuesday was delivered by Angel Colon, 26, who was struck by bullets just as he was getting ready to leave the club. As he lay wounded, the gunman returned, executing a woman besides Colon, then shooting him in the hand and side.
“I hear him coming back. He is shooting everyone that’s already dead on the floor, making sure they are dead,” Colon said tearfully. “I am thinking, I am next. I am dead.”
A police officer later dragged him out of the building, laying him in nearby parking lot.
“I looked over and there’s just bodies everywhere. We are all in pain.”